All posts by Paul Tchir

Updates to Swiss Olympic Mysteries

Today on Oldest Olympians we wanted to highlight some great recent research from Connor Mah, who has expanded our biographical data on Swiss and Austrian Olympians significantly. While there are far too many names to cover in a single post, we wanted to highlight some of the updates that involve past Olympic mysteries that were featured on this blog.

(Original Caption) Jesse Renick, of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, captain of the U.S. Olympic basketball team (left) is congratulated by Maurice Chollet, captain of the Swiss team, after the Americans had whipped their opponents 86-21 at Harringay Stadium on July 30th. The American boys have since bettered a Czech five, 53-28.

(Maurice Chollet, pictured on the right at Getty Images)

Starting with Switzerland, back in June Mah was able to confirm that the Hugo Vonlanthen who was listed as dying on April 28, 2009 was in fact the Olympic field hockey player. Then, earlier this month, he verified that the obituary for a Maurice Chollet who died February 22, 2017 was for the two-time Olympic basketball player. Most recently, he was able to confirm that the Kurt Bryner who died in Cape Verde in February 1984 was the two-time Olympic sailor.

(Adolf Müller, with the moustache in the background)

In-between, Mah was also able to solve several other Swiss Olympic mysteries. Firstly, 1936 Olympic canoeist Rudolf Vilim did die in February 1959. The Wikipedia date of death of August 28, 2005 for field hockey player Roland Annen was also confirmed as correct. He also proved that the January 2017 obituary for a René Wohler was for the 1952 Olympic basketball player. Finally, he discovered that Adolf Müller, a wrestler who was one of our Olympic medal mysteries, died July 7, 2005.

(John O’Connor, pictured in the Northern Whig, June 18, 1951)

We also have a handful of non-Swiss updates. From Austria, Mah was able to confirm that water polo player Sebastian Ploner, born May 27, 1907, did die in December 1981 as suggested by the Vienna cemetery index. From Ireland, with some help from Emma Edwards, we learned that athlete John O’Connor died October 10, 1977. From Italy, Adriano Brunelli verified that Wikipedia’s date of death for Amedeo Banci, December 24, 2013, is correct. From El Salvador, we learned that sport shooter Tomás Vilanova did die in July 2007.

(Rosella Thorne pictured in “A Sporting Chance: Achievements of African-Canadian Athletes” by William Humber)

Finally, a few days ago we featured Canadian track and field athlete Rosella Thorne, a previous Olympic mystery born December 11, 1930, as our Olympian of the day based on information that she was still alive. Sadly, it turns out that she died April 16 at the age of 91.

Update to the Historical List of the Oldest Living Olympians

Today on Oldest Olympians, we wanted to correct a mistake that we made in a previous post, one that concerns our historical list of the Oldest Living Olympians. Originally, we listed sport shooter Giuseppe Rivabella of Italy as the oldest living Olympian from April 8, 1896, the start of the military rifle, 200 metres event, until May 20, 1900, when French sailor William Martin, born October 25, 1828, began his first competition.

(Giuseppe Rivabella)

We recently learned from Diego Rossetti, however, that Rivabella was 63 when he died on August 24, 1919, which means that he was born in 1855 or 1856. This leads to a chance that Rivabella was never the oldest living Olympian, as American Charles Waldstein, born March 30, 1856, also competed in the same event. If Rivabella was born between April 1 and August 24, 1856, then he was never the oldest living Olympian and thus we have updated our tables to reflect this possibility.

(Kevin Wilson)

In terms of other age mysteries, we recently noted that Australian sailor Kevin Wilson, whom we had listed as being born March 18, 1923, may actually have been a few years younger. With the death of Frank Prihoda, we learned that this was indeed the case: Wilson was born December 15, 1927, making another sailor, Gordon Ingate, born March 29, 1926, the oldest living Australian Olympian. We have also been able to confirm details on two of our other Olympic mystery sailors. Manuel Escobar of El Salvador, born August 6, 1924, died March 8, 1995, giving us a more precise date that we suspected in our original post. Connor Mah, meanwhile, was able to verify that Canadian Olympic sailing mystery Dick Townsend was born April 29, 1928 and died November 22, 1982.

Max Müller

Thanks to recent research from Connor Mah, we have learned about the existence of a new Olympic centenarian! Swiss cross-country skier Max Müller, born June 27, 1916, died November 22, 2019 at the age of 103 years and 148 days. Müller represented his country in three events at the 1948 St. Moritz Games, finishing 17th in the 50 kilometers and 25th in the 18 kilometers. He was also fifth with the 4×10 kilometers relay squad. Domestically, he was a three-time national champion and later ran a sports store.

(Max Müller, pictured in a 2018 bulletin from Club Alpin Suisse)

While we are on the subject of potential centenarians, we also wanted to mention Australian sailor Kevin Wilson. Wilson represented his country in the Star class at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, where he and his crewmate Bart Harvey placed 18th. Currently, we have Wilson as being born March 18, 1923, but travel documents suggest a year of birth of 1927 or 1928. We know that he was still alive in March 2021, but in the report he is mentioned as being 93 years old, which would align with the contemporary sources. While we are leaving him born in 1923 on our tables for now, it seems likely that he is several years younger, albeit still among the Oldest Olympians.

Paul Makler, Sr.

On October 22, on what we believed to be his 102nd birthday, we featured Paul Makler, Sr. as the oldest living American Olympian and Olympic fencer. After an investigation from George Masin, however, we learned that Makler had actually died on May 12, at the age of 101 years, 202 days.

(Paul Makler)

With this update, we now believe that swimmer Iris Cummings, born December 21, 1920, is the oldest living American Olympian. Cummings competed in the 200 metres breaststroke at the 1936 Berlin Games, making her the last known survivor from that edition. Soviet fencer Yulen Uralov, meanwhile, who took part in the foil tournament at the 1952 Helsinki Games, was still alive in 2018 and living in Israel. If he were still alive, he would be the oldest living Olympic fencer. If not, that distinction would likely go to Bernard Morel, who won a bronze medal for France in team sabre in 1952 and also competed in 1956.

While we are on the topic of Olympic uncertainties, it has come to our attention that the individual that we have listed currently as the oldest living Panamanian Olympian, Aurelio Chu Yi, born January 31, 1929, may actually be deceased. According to a source located by Connor Mah, he may have died in the 1990s, although the notice was vague and did not provide sufficient information to identify him definitively as the Olympian. As public records from Florida list him as still living, we have kept him on our lists, but are now aware that this may be in error.

(Mario Ghella)

Finally, we wanted to address two recent removals that may have gone under the radar. First, we initially listed Dutch gymnast Nanny Simon, born June 23, 1931, as alive and living in Florida. Some findings by Connor Mah, however, proved that the American individual was not the Olympian, and thus we do not know if the Olympian is still alive. Secondly, we had listed Italian Olympic sprint cycling champion Mario Ghella, born June 23, 1929, as alive on our tables until recently. Adriano Brunelli, however, discovered that Ghella actually died February 10, 2020 in Spain, at the age of 90, demonstrating that even Olympic champions can sometimes die without receiving widespread notice.

International Competitors at the 1936 Ice Stock Sport Tournament

The last time that we discussed eisstockschießen, or “ice stock sport”, at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics on this blog, we brought up the lesser-known women who participated in the tournament. Today, we wanted to highlight the non-German teams that took part in the competition.

There were three events open to international competitors at Games – target shooting, distance shooting, and a team tournament – all of which were for men and all of which were won by Austrians. Ignaz Reiterer of Graz captured the target title well ahead of the rest of the field with 15 points. Two of his compatriots, Franz Lawugger and Josef Kalkschmid, shared a four-way tie for second, alongside August Brunner of Germany and Karl Wolfinger of Czechoslovakia. Reiterer did not compete in any other event, placing him in the company of German Hans Moser, Austrian Josef Marx, and Czechoslovakian Friedrich Czernich.

(Georg Edenhauser (left) and Friedrich Mosshammer (right))

The winner in the distance event was Georg Edenhauser, who was also relatively dominant. Second was his compatriot Friedrich Mosshammer, while third was Ludwig Retzer of Germany. Like Reiterer, Edenhauser and Mosshammer did not compete in other events, nor did their teammates Anton Schaffernak and August Ischepp, or Czechoslovakian Wilhelm Feistner.

The squad from Tirol, which consisted of Wilhelm Silbermayr, Anton and Otto Ritzl (whose relationship, if any, is unknown), Wilhelm Pichler, and Rudolf Rainer won the team tournament. Austrians also took third place with the Steiermark squad of Josef Hödl-Schlehofer, Johann Mrakitsch, Rudolf Wagner, Friedrich Schieg, and Hubert Lödler. A third Austrian team, from Kärnten, made up of Josef Hafner, Isidor Waitschacher, Josef Kleewein, Paul Begrusch, and Josef Maierbrugger, placed sixth.

The two Czechoslovakian teams, meanwhile, did not fare as well. Wolfinger teamed with Friedrich Brave, Friedrich Feistner, and Friedrich Arnhold to place seventh. Eight and last, meanwhile, went to Hans Bernhardt, Rudolf Kopal, Hans Großmann, Alfred Hein, and Otto Hanff. Unfortunately we know nothing of all of these competitors, but we hope that one day we will discover more about their lives and their contributions to the Olympic movement.

One (Maybe Two?) New Olympic Centenarian(s)

Today on Oldest Olympians we wanted to cover two art competitors, one of whom definitely reached the age of 100 and a second who might have.

The first, Iranian Abolhassan Sadighi, born October 5, 1894, was definitely a centenarian, as he died December 11, 1995 at the age of 101 years, 67 days. From a noble family, Sadighi eschewed his parents’ expectations and took up painting. He later shifted to sculpting and is best known for his statue of the Persian poet Ferdowsi, completed in 1971, that sits in Tehran’s Ferdowsi Square.

Sadighi entered an earlier statue of Ferdowsi into the sculpturing competition at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Since the art competitions at these Games were unofficial, they can be considered a non-medalling demonstration event, and thus Sadighi is not a full Olympian. Regardless, we find it worthwhile to mention him in this blog and on our tables, particularly as he is, to the best of our knowledge, the only Iranian associated with the Olympics to have reached the age of 100.

The more uncertain participant is Japan’s Hajime Ishimaru. Unlike Sadighi, Ishimaru competed in painting at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, so he definitely qualifies as an Olympian (at least as far as art competitors go). Ishimaru painted in several styles and was active both before and after World War II. He submitted a work listed as “The Sun Shines Most Beautifully Here”, although in Japanese it was titled simply “Seifuku”, which means “conquest”. Ishimaru was born in 1890 and died in 1990 but, without exact dates, we cannot be certain that he was a centenarian.

Women in the 1936 Ice Stock Sport Tournament

In one of our recent posts, it may have come as a surprise that there were women who participated in eisstockschießen, or “ice stock sport”, at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics. Given that women were significantly underrepresented at the Games during this time, we wanted to devote a little attention to their events at this edition, even though we know almost nothing about the actual participants.

The women had only one individual event, target shooting, which judged how close to a target the competitor could get. There was no distance competition. The winner by a considerable margin was Mathilde Seyffarth of SC Riessersee; no one else could make even half her score of 27, with the runner-up being Dora Landes of Eisstock-Club Straubing coming in at 12.

(Therese Ryhiner’s 1936 identification card, pictured at The Saleroom)

In the team event, Seyffarth came in third with Therese Ryhiner, Maria Clausing, Maria Weinmüller, and Gertrud Großberger. Ryhiner is one of the few women in this sport for whom we have any certain biographical data, as her 1936 identification card came up for auction several years ago. Landes, meanwhile, was fourth in the team event with Elise Landes, Mathilde Kronfeldner, Ida Kellermann, and Ida Holzer. What relation there is between Dora and Elise Landes, or between Mathilde and men’s Straubing team member Georg Kronfeldner, if any, is unknown.

We already mentioned the winner of the women’s team event, Altonaer Schlittschuhläuferverein, so, for the sake of completion, the runner-up was Eissport-Club Zwiesel, a team that consisted of Frieda Dötsch, Theresia Pfeffer, Lina Strobl, Martha Weickelsdorfer, and Eva Wiede. In terms of family relations, Kurt and Max Pfeffer competed with the Zwiesel squad in the men’s event, while a third Pfeffer, Karl, was with Gießener Eisverein, and was therefore probably not related. There was only one other entry, from Frankfurter Tennis-Club 1914, which finished last. Their squad included Hilde Keck, Hedwig Engelhard, Elisabeth Luchterhand, Hilde Kaiser, and Lisl Dotzert. Hilde Keck’s relationship to Fritz Keck, from the men’s Frankfurter team, is unknown.

As we mentioned, we know very little about most of these women. Hedwig Engelhard might be Hedwig Helene Engelhard, born February 24, 1874 and died April 3, 1963, both in Frankfurt, but we have no proof. In any case, that is enough for today, but we hope that we have drawn a little more attention to this oft-forgotten event in women’s sporting history!

Dagny and Inger Jørgensen

Today on Oldest Olympians, we wanted to present a quick blog entry on two Olympic siblings that we only recently learned are still alive: Dagny and Inger Jørgensen. Both of them represented Norway in alpine skiing at the Games and, in the hopes of being able to feature more Olympians on this page, we wanted to post about them together.

Dagny, born March 22, 1929, is the older sister. Her most notable moment in skiing came at the 1952 Oslo Olympics, where she was 21st in the downhill and 33rd in the giant slalom. Her club, the Asker Skiklubb, celebrated her 90th birthday in 2019.

Inger, born October 30, 1930, was younger, but more successful. She competed at the 1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo Games, where she was 13th in the slalom, 24th in the giant slalom, and 26th in the downhill. Domestically, she was Norwegian national champion in slalom in 1953 and 1954 and in giant slalom in 1956.

On the topic of Winter Olympians, we wanted to provide an additional update: a while ago, we mentioned Slovenian cross-country skier Zdravko Hlebanja, born October 15, 1929, as an Olympic mystery, as he was listed in the Slovenian Wikipedia as having died March 9, 2018. We have now been able to confirm that this was indeed the case.

Ice Stock Sport Olympic Mysteries

A few years ago on Oldest Olympians, we wrote a post on eisstockschießen, or “ice stock sport”, a game that is similar to curling and was played at the 1936 and 1964 Winter Olympics as a demonstration sport. You can view that post here. We wanted to revisit this topic today because, as time has gone by, we have uncovered some Olympic mysteries about players from both editions that we feel are worth covering on this blog.

Beginning in 1964, we have a little more biographical data on the competitors at this edition than we do for the 1936 tournament. With some full dates of birth, we have a few regular additions to our “possibly living” group, such as Ernst Meier of Switzerland (born June 23, 1932) and Johann Pregartner (born April 14, 1931) and Alfred Summer (born December 21, 1925) of Austria, for whom we simply cannot ascertain whether or not they are still alive. In other cases, we have more substantial Olympic mysteries.

(The Willi Cahenzli of Portrait Archiv)

For example, the ESC Gelb-Blau Davos team of Switzerland had a Willi Cahenzli among their ranks. Given the rarity of this name, we assume that he is the same Willi Cahenzli of Davos that was born March 16, 1935 and died May 5, 2018, although we cannot prove it. Similarly, we assume that the Engelbert Zunterer of the fifth-placed EC Ferchensee team is Engelbert Zunterer of Mittenwald, born February 22, 1923 and died June 27, 2011, but are not certain. We are also unaware of his exact relation (if any) to teammates Alois Zunterer and Peter Zunterer.

Moving on to 1936, we have a lot more information on the competitors than we did when we made our original post. For example, of the five members of Wintersportverein Aschaffenburg, we suspect that August Köhl and Ferdinand Röser might be the individuals by those names who lived from 1889-1939 and 1885-1954 respectively and died in Aschaffenburg. We also know that Eugen Reusch is deceased, and thus only Lorenz Junker and Hans Zellner remain completely unknown to us.

(Memorial to a Georg Reiser at Find-a-Grave)

Even for the winning teams, there is very limited information. Of the five men from Garmisch-Partenkirchen who won the Germany-only team tournament, for example, our only lead is that a Georg Reiser born March 26, 1901 and died January 3, 1963 is buried in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. We do not even know how (or if) one of his teammates, Martin Reiser, is related to him, nor do we have any information on the other members: Anton Bader, Anton Jocher, and Egon Härtl. In fact, there are many potential family relations about which we are unaware. For example, we suspect that Willi Knak of the Hamburg’s Altonaer Schlittschuhläuferverein might be the Willi Knak of Hamburg born January 2, 1904, but we do not know what relationship he has to the Martha Knak of the same club that won the German women’s team event. That club also had another pairing, Ruth and Bernhard Becker, about whom we know nothing, along with the rest of the women’s team: Lilli Herboldt, Agnes Knudsen, and Paula Külper.

The final Olympic mystery for today is Fritz Stuis, who played for Eis- und Rollschuhsportverein Passau. We believe that he may be the Fritz Stuis born June 6, 1894 in Pyrbaum, but have no proof. There are many more ice stock sport players that we could cover, but we think that we have mentioned enough names for one day, so we shall end here, but hopefully blog again in the near future!

Missing Biographical Data From 1936

The 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Berlin Olympics are the last prewar Games for whom some of the more mysterious competitors could still be alive and have not yet been covered on this blog. In seeking to address this, today on Oldest Olympians we to cover five starting Olympians who competed at these editions, but for whom we lack any biographical data.

Two of these individuals represented Austria in aquatic sports. The first, Helena “Elli” von Kropiwnicki, was a member of the 4×100 freestyle relay team that was eliminated in round one. While all four are missing dates of death, von Kropiwnicki is the only one missing a date of birth. The second, Therese Rampel, was a member of the same club, 1. Wiener Amateur Schwimmclub, but took part in platform diving, where she was 16th.

(Qadri Mahmud)

A third competitor, Egyptian Fadl Ibrahim, was also an aquatic participant, as he took part in the 4×200 metres freestyle relay, where his nation was also eliminated in round one. He is the only one of his teammates about whom we know nothing, although our only information on Zaki Saad al-Dine is that he died prior to May 20, 2000. Qadri Mahmud, born October 8, 1917, was a star swimmer at the American University of Cairo, but we do not know his date of death. Finally, Higazi Said, born sometime in 1916 in Cairo, died August 30, 1998 and was a well-known national swimmer as well.

The final summer Olympian is Abouwi Ahmad Shah, who was a member of Afghanistan’s field hockey team in Berlin, which placed fifth overall in the tournament. There was an Ahmad Shah Abouwi who competed for Afghanistan in field hockey at the 1956 Melbourne Games, but records indicate that he was born in 1930, too early to have also been the 1936 Olympian. The 1936 squad also had a few non-starters, such as Abdul Chaffar and Nauroz Ali Nauroz, about whom we also know nothing.

01AH8CER; Bozena Moserova

(Picture from Diomedia)

Finally, we have Wilhelm Blechschmidt, who represented Czechoslovakia in both the two- and four-man bobsleigh events in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. As with many bobsledders of this era, we know nothing else about him. On the topic of bobsledders, however, Connor Mah was able to prove that John Read, who represented Great Britain in the four-man at the 1956 Cortina d’Ampezzo Olympics, and whom we covered previously on Oldest Olympians, died April 12, 2000 in Salisbury, England. And in terms of Olympians who represented Czechoslovakia at the Winter Games, we learned that Božena Moserová, who took part in three alpine skiing events at the 1948 St. Moritz Olympics, and who we have also covered previously, died February 9, 2017.